TOUGHER INSPECTIONS, HIGHER FINES EXPECTED IN OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Labor and business sources familiar with OSHA have predicted tougher OSHA inspections and higher fines under President-elect Obama. Cooperative programs have historically been less of an interest to Democratic administrations than enforcement. Accordingly, OSHA is widely expected to step back from its recent emphasis on voluntary worker protection in favor of stiffer enforcement and penalties. In a letter from Obama to the head of the American Federation of Government Employees, Obama indicated that the Department of Labor under his administration will enforce workplace safety laws.

In support of this commitment, the House of Representatives recently passed an economic stimulus bill that includes $80 million for the “enforcement of worker protection laws, regulations, oversight, and coordination activities.” The Senate version of the stimulus bill, however, barely mentions OSHA and includes very little of the funding approved by the House.

Democrats have for some time been pushing OSHA to engage in more aggressive enforcement activities. Passage of the stimulus bill by the House of Representatives is clear evidence they are looking seriously for a way to pay for it.

Whichever bill passes, any new funding OSHA receives is likely to target increased enforcement activities, particularly as infrastructure projects targeted by the Obama administration get underway. This means that more inspections, more citations, and more abatement costs can be expected by employers. Safety is always important in the construction industry. Some additional attention to avoiding OSHA scrutiny is in order as we move forward with a new administration.

Steven K. Metcalf